Those We’ve Lost: A Lot Is Packed Into Those Words

From a Times Insider story by Daniel J. Wakin headlined “Unforgettable Lives”:

The New York Times obituary series on people who died in the Covid pandemic ran under the title “Those We’ve Lost.” A lot is packed into those words.

“Those” reflected the individual identities behind the numbers of dead that crashed over us each day. “We” made it clear that we were all in this together, suffering a collective loss and sadness over the millions who died worldwide. And “Lost” conveyed the more personal grief felt by so many over the disappearance of yet another treasured human life.

Many people are continuing to die of Covid-19, but the need to chronicle the toll has grown less urgent as the numbers have declined in much of the world, as vaccination rates have risen and as large numbers of people have returned to a more normal life. All these factors have been welcome signals that it’s time to end the series….

The goal of the project was never to give a comprehensive accounting of Covid-19’s death toll, but to put at least some faces on the quickly multiplying numbers. Since March 2020, the series profiled more than 500 people…and as a reflection of the pandemic’s reach, they lived in all corners of the world….

Some of these obituaries would have been written anyway, given the prominence of the subjects. They included John Prine, the singer-songwriter; Roy Horn, half of Siegfried & Roy; the pitcher Tom Seaver; and Annie Glenn, an advocate for people with speech disorders who was the astronaut John Glenn’s widow. But a vast majority told the stories of those who would not ordinarily have received a news obituary in The Times; they were more a sampling of humanity’s broad spectrum.

We wrote about teachers, nurses and doctors; lawyers, police officers and prison inmates; architects, gallerists and pharmacists; judges, generals and journalists; firefighters, fashionistas and foodies; scientists, social workers and social media stars.

There were actors, directors, elected officials, scholars, shop owners, athletes, coaches, cabbies, farmworkers, writers, Indigenous leaders and just about every kind of musician. There were the activists: people who worked on behalf of poverty-stricken Haitians, disabled women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tibetan orphans, transgender women, India’s Dalits, people with AIDS and laid-off workers….

All told, 88 Times journalists contributed to the series, many from the paper’s news bureaus around the world, along with 15 freelance writers. For many of these reporters, the project was a powerful experience. One said it was the most meaningful thing he had done at the paper in 10 years.

Family members and friends allowed it all to happen, relating memories and biographical details about their lost loved ones, as well as providing photographs of them. Hundreds of readers responded to a request for contributions. Subjects were gleaned from the many regional news organizations that reported on their local Covid dead, and from individuals who established Twitter feeds to memorialize victims.

We express gratitude to all of them, with the hope that we’ll never see the likes of this kind of project again.

Daniel J. Wakin was the editor of Those We’ve Lost.

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